Mark Rubin, half of Austin, Texas' Atomic Duo, is diplomatic by nature, and, unlike many singers of protest songs and political anthems, he's always searching for common ground. But when it comes to music, he's uncompromising. "If you're going to identify yourself as an American musician, you're going to have to come to grips with the fact that we were built by Sousa and Joplin," he said during a showcase performance in February at the International Folk Alliance Conference in Memphis. "If you can't make an accommodation with Stephen Foster, John Philip Sousa, and Scott Joplin, then you don't really know the heart of American music."
Although Rubin and his partner in song, Silas Lowe, are both students of American music, they're hardly purists. The group's vintage acoustic sound can move from ragtime to Jimi Hendrix, all in the span of a few measures. But they aren't a novelty act either. In fact, the Atomic Duo — who joke their way through a set Smothers Brothers-style — are serious about making lingering political statements, and in spite of all the funny business, they are easily one of the most serious acts making the rounds today.
"I'm not sure if this song qualifies as a Marxist polemic or a disaster song," Lowe says when he introduces "Trickle Down," his original song about the harsher realities of supply-side economics. Rubin, also known for his work in Killbilly and the Bad Livers, is at his best when mixing up the comedy and the tragedy. His song "Keychain" chronicles the lightening of one man's burden as the keys to his office, car, and home are all taken away from him, in that order.
Hard times are best faced with good company and a song. That's what you'll get when the Atomic Duo plays Two Stick in Oxford on Thursday.